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Flashlight Reviews

By: Tara Tuckwiller on August 29, 2016

If you haven't bought a flashlight in a while, you'll be glad to know that today's LED versions last longer, are more powerful and are lighter than those old, heavy flashlights that emitted the dimmest yellow glow. In addition to battery-operated flashlights, we also checked reviews for alternative types, such as those that can recharge themselves by shaking -- handy for emergencies when you don't have spare batteries on hand. We consulted both expert and user reviews to identify the most reliable flashlights in a variety of price ranges.

MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016 Review
Best Reviewed

Best flashlight

MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016

The MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016 is the muscle car of flashlights: big, strong and made in the U.S.A. It's not fancy -- just impeccably well-made, with a super-bright LED beam (which easily adjusts from floodlight to spotlight) and anodized-aluminum body so tough that proud owners trade war stories about incredible disasters their trusty MagLites have survived. It can run 80 hours on three D batteries, and it's warranted for the life of the original owner.

Buy for $2.89
Mini MagLite Pro Review
Runners Up

Best mini flashlight

Mini MagLite Pro

It's just as tough and reliable as the bigger MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016, but at 6.5 inches long and weighing just 4 ounces, the Mini MagLite Pro is easy to tote around, fitting easily into a pocket or bag. Its brilliant twist-to-focus LED beam reaches 150 yards into the distance. It can shine for two and a half hours on two AA batteries; the MagLite Mini Pro+ (Est. $24) is similar, but adds a low setting that lasts 27 hours.

Buy for $19.22
Streamlight 88031 Protac Tactical Flashlight 2L
Runners Up

Tactical flashlight

Streamlight 88031 Protac Tactical Flashlight 2L

Military-style tactical flashlights can cost hundreds of dollars, but the budget-friendlier Streamlight 88031 Protac Tactical Flashlight 2L earns plenty of respect from reviewers. Its blinding LED beam and strobe setting can disorient attackers, and its toothed bezel and tailpiece make this palm-sized flashlight a serious striking weapon. It's waterproof and can survive a 2-meter drop -- and it can also shine for 50 hours on low, when you simply need an ordinary flashlight.

Buy for $44.38
MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 Review
Best Reviewed

Best rechargeable flashlight

MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019

Preferred by police for decades, the MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 is basically the twin of the MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016 (Est. $30) -- only you'll never have to buy batteries for it. The MagCharger rests in a powered charging cradle that plugs into your wall outlet or vehicle. It's just as hefty and bright as the 3-Cell, plus it adds power saving low and eco modes, as well as strobe and momentary beams for special situations.

Buy for $69.99
Energizer Weather Ready LED Light
Runners Up

Cheap rechargeable flashlight

Energizer Weather Ready Compact Rechargeable LED Light

Cheap flashlights are usually disappointingly dim and flimsy, but owners rave about the Energizer Weather Ready Compact Rechargeable LED Light. This pint-sized flashlight plugs directly into the wall, shines for 3.5 hours on high (longer on low), lights up automatically when the power goes out and never needs batteries. It's not as bright as the MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 (Est. $85), but owners say that it's more than bright enough for most household uses.

Buy for $9.63

Flashlights that won't leave you in the dark

Flashlights need to do two simple things: Turn on, and be bright.

So when a flashlight lets us down -- well, let's just say it's frustrating. Especially when we desperately grab it during an emergency (blackout, flat tire at night, etc.) ... and realize it has sucked all of its batteries dry, just dozing on the shelf since the last blackout.

If you haven't bought a new flashlight lately (or you've been relying on 99-cent bargain-bin cheapies), you might be surprised to learn that modern technology has actually built a better flashlight. You just have to know which one to pick. Here are some pointers:

  • You don't have to spend a lot. Our Best Flashlight pick costs $30. Our favorite little handheld rechargeable costs just $9.
  • LED beats incandescent. LED bulbs shine exponentially brighter and gobble far fewer batteries than old-fashioned incandescents. And these days, any decent LED flashlight shines a pleasant, white light (not the garish, blue-tinged glare you'll suffer with the 99-cent cheapies). All of our top picks are LED flashlights.
  • Batteries or rechargeable? Each has its advantages. Rechargeable flashlights eliminate battery hassles (dead batteries, weak batteries, expired batteries, forgot to buy batteries, etc.). On the other hand, traditional replaceable-battery flashlights need no recharge time -- just slip in some fresh batteries and keep going. For emergency use, for obvious reasons, battery powered flashlights are the only reasonable choice.

The very best flashlights are tough, bright, reliable and reasonably priced. We dug through expert tests and owner reviews to find out which flashlights make the cut.

MagLite makes the best flashlights, big or small

When in doubt, buy a MagLite. That's the consensus of owners at every single retail website we checked. Thousands of state troopers, paramedics, and just everyday people have written reviews of MagLite flashlights -- and very few of them can find any flaws.

You can buy MagLites in any size, from tiny keychain lights to arm-length-long monsters that swallow six D batteries. But for most reviewers, the MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016 (Est. $30) hits the sweet spot. This flashlight can cast its beam over a quarter-mile, and it can run 80 hours on one set of three D batteries.

MagLite says it can withstand a 1-meter drop and five minutes of rain or splashing -- but reviews say that's understating its ruggedness. "MagLite set the standard for tough flashlights," Popular Mechanics' Steve Rousseau says, and it aces his flashlight-abuse test. He uses it to pound 12 iron tent stakes into the ground (its rugged anodized-aluminum body gets some shallow dents); runs over it with a 1973 MGB (minor scrapes); submerges it for 7 hours (it works perfectly afterward); and drops it 25 feet onto concrete ("big dent in the barrel but still shining").

Users are no less gentle. MagLites have been dropped in toilets, campfires, down cliffs and more, and all still worked perfectly, their owners report at Amazon.com.

The MagLite LED 3-Cell blasts 168 lumens. Twist the head, and the beam narrows from floodlight to long-range spotlight. Plenty of LED flashlights boast more lumens, but reviews say they tend to start dimming immediately, gobble a set of batteries every couple of hours or just can't out-tough the MagLite. MagLite backs all of its flashlights with a lifetime warranty against defects in parts and workmanship for the life of the original owner. MagLites are made in the U.S.A., too, which reviewers appreciate.

Every size MagLite earns equally stellar ratings. For those that want something smaller, the Mini MagLite Pro (Est. $22) actually shines brighter than the MagLite LED 3-Cell (272 lumens), amazing owners at every retail website we checked. It's built just as tough, too, owners report, with the same twist-to-focus LED beam. At 6.5 inches long and 4 ounces, it's easy to slip into a pocket or bag.

The tradeoff? The Mini Pro can't shine quite as far as the bigger MagLite (although still 163 meters -- more than a football field and a half), and it'll drain a set of two AA batteries in two and a half hours. For just a dollar or two more, the MagLite Mini Pro+ (Est. $24) adds a Low setting that can sip on one set of batteries for 27 hours -- good for situations where you don't particularly need or want a blindingly bright light.

Tactical flashlights: Tiny but tough

Tactical flashlights were originally developed for the military and police, but more and more civilians are buying them. Tactical flashlights are palm-sized, rugged and dazzlingly bright -- enough to temporarily blind an enemy -- with a thumb-operated switch on the tail end. When you grip a tactical flashlight in your fist, the head and tail (which often have toothed edges) will stick out past your hand, so it makes an effective striking weapon.

You could spend hundreds of dollars on a tactical flashlight, but reviews say that's not necessary. The reasonably priced Streamlight 88031 Protac Tactical Flashlight 2L (Est. $45) earns the most consistent praise.

Firearms and tactical trainer Mike Seeklander recommends it at ArtOfManliness.com. "If you're looking for a more affordable tactical flashlight," the Protac 2L is described by Seeklander as "more than enough to blind an attacker so you can escape and evade." It's a customer favorite at Cabelas.com and Amazon.com.

The Streamlight 2L is less than 5 inches long and weighs less than 3 ounces, so it's easy to pocket. It shoots out a powerful 260-lumen LED beam, which lasts for three hours on a set of two small batteries (CR123A lithiums, included). You can switch to strobe (to disorient attackers) for 6 hours, or low (when you just want to use it as a flashlight, without blinding anybody) for 50 hours.

The Streamlight's anodized aluminum body can survive being submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes and a 2-meter fall. It has an impact-resistant tempered glass lens, and its head and tailpiece have crenellated edges. Streamlight backs it with a lifetime warranty against defects (batteries and bulbs, abuse and normal wear excluded).

Rechargeable flashlights: Bye-bye, batteries

A really good rechargeable flashlight costs more up-front than a battery-powered one -- but there's a reason why some police departments issue the MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 (Est. $85) as standard equipment. It's every bit as potent as its battery-powered brother, the Best Reviewed MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016. Same rugged, anodized-aluminum body that can survive water and abuse. Same reassuring heft (about a foot long and nearly 2 pounds). Same mega-bright beam that can pierce a quarter-mile of darkness, and that can adjust to a floodlight with a twist of the wrist. Same lifetime warranty.

But the MagCharger has some big advantages, reviewers say. Since you can keep it in its charging cradle, it'll always be fully powered and ready when you grab it (bonus: You'll always know where it is, too). You'll never have to buy batteries. And the MagCharger has three special modes -- Outdoor, Law Enforcement and Military -- that let you instantly fire up strobe or momentary beams with the click of a button.

Of course, the MagCharger can't run for days on a single charge, the way regular full-size MagLites can run for days on a set of D batteries. Still, the MagCharger will shine its brightest for 4 hours on a charge, plus, it'll run 17 hours on low (which is still quite bright, at 148 lumens) and 37 hours on eco (66 lumens).That's plenty for most uses, though you'll also want to keep a battery-powered flashlight around for emergencies, such as an extended power outage

Owners -- firefighters, farmers, tow truck drivers -- report that they've relied on the MagCharger for years and it never fails them. The MagCharger is particularly easy to use, thanks to its powered cradle. The cradle plugs into the wall or car charger, so you never have to fiddle with the plug again -- just slip the entire flashlight in and out of the cradle. A cheaper rechargeable MagLite, the MagLite ML125 (Est. $60) gets good feedback, too, but reviews say it's less convenient because you have to take the battery out and charge it separately.

MagLite offers the MagCharger LED RL1019 with various power adapters. For example, Amazon.com sells it for $70 packaged with a 12-volt car charger, or $85 with both car charger and regular 120-volt wall plug. A 230-volt converter and 12-volt straight wire are also available.

If these MagLite rechargeable flashlights are too tall an order for your budget, for less than $10, the diminutive Energizer Weather Ready Compact Rechargeable LED Light (Est. $9) is worth considering. It can't match the majestic MagCharger -- but owners say it's just about the handiest little flashlight around.

Cheap flashlights are usually dim, flimsy battery hogs. But the Energizer shines long and bright, survives being dropped and just generally seems to last forever, owners say. Convenience-wise, Energizer has thought of everything: The little flashlight has a flip-out plug that sticks directly into an ordinary wall socket (without blocking the other socket), so it'll always be charged up, and you'll always know where to find it. If the power goes out, the Energizer lights up automatically. It'll run for 3.5 hours on High, or longer on Low.

The Energizer won't light up your entire backyard, like the MagCharger will, but it's certainly bright enough for ordinary household use. In fact, some owners say that although they own more powerful flashlights, the handy little Energizer is the one they grab most often.

Expert & User Review Sources

To find the toughest flashlight, Popular Mechanics thoroughly abuses four popular flashlights (a MagLite, a cheap Rayovac and two flashy $300 models) and unmasks one as a surprising wimp. A professional firearms and tactical trainer names his preferred tactical flashlights at ArtOfManliness.com. But otherwise, "expert" flashlight reviews are few and far between -- except for the police officers, firefighters, and others for whom a good flashlight is literally a lifesaver (plus thousands of everyday owners) who post candid reviews at retail websites including Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Cabelas.com and BHPhotoVideo.com.

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